I never intended it to be this way. It just happened. I came from a good family with good values; the kind of family whose Sunday itinerary included pancakes and window shopping, but ONLY after church. I was the guy who could wear a dressy button down shirt with cargo pants and flip flops. I was a college graduate. The riskiest thing I had ever done was wear my backpack over one shoulder. But that all changed very quickly.
I blame my awful memory. I blame how upset I was at myself for forgetting to DVR Fringe. I had watched every episode and still didn’t know what was going on, and now missing an episode would just lead me to give up on the series entirely. I blame the government for filling my head with worries on how I was going to pay my school loans on an Old Navy’s employee salary. All of these factors combined to fluster me so much that I couldn’t focus on the task at hand. I blamed that damn smooth Target shopping cart.
It was a Friday evening. My shopping cart looked like it had been filled by an 8-year-old. The majority of my items contained some sassy cartoon mascot. None of the items contained any promises of helping me reduce the chance of cancer or helping me achieve better bowel movements. My shopping cart had been kind enough to come equipped with a bottom shelf to hold heavy items. My 150-pound body decided that a box of Ginger Ale was appropriate for that bottom shelf.
I quickly made my way to the express checkout lane and avoided the self –checkout lanes because I rather not use something that the Devil clearly made. Fake smiles and an unconvincing exchange of “How are you?” and all my items passed through the scanner and I was gone. Right out the sliding doors. Right pass the security guard.
As I was packing everything into my light gray Ford Focus, a car made for 50-year-old men who keep numerous rolled up blueprints in the backseat of the bar they hope to open one day, I saw it right there. I gasped. The type of gasp you make when you forget your wallet on a date. But this was unintentional. The box of Ginger Ale sodas sat right there on the bottom shelf. It was never scanned. It was never stamped with a “Paid” sticker. It was never acknowledged. My God, I was a thief.
I hesitated for a bit, not knowing whether to take it back or throw it in the trunk. I expected the hammy security guard to make his first apprehension and tackle me; read me my rights even though I knew he couldn’t arrest me. So I did what I assumed any other person would do: I threw it in my trunk and drove off.
I recall the feelings of fear and panic shaking off fairly quickly and exhilaration taking over. I was like Clyde without Bonnie because Bonnie had decided to bail on a second date and suggest to me we just be friends. Whatever, I worked better alone anyway.
Over the next few weeks, there were no SWAT team busting through my windows, there were no wanted signs, and Keith Morrison didn’t interview any of my neighbors so that they could reveal with an awkward kid I was growing up. No pictures of me and my acne filled high school days appeared on the news; I didn’t even get a memorable nickname. I was a ghost. The perfect crime.
I thought many times of doing it again, but this time the unintentional part would be in quotes: “unintentional,” yeah, just like that. I didn’t want to get greedy. I got lucky once; the next time may have been different. I saved $4.25 that day. But I lost my innocence. Although I gained a story; a story that could perhaps give me a free pass to pop the collars on all my Polos and wear my sunglasses on the back of my head, Guy Fieri style. I finally had that bad boy tag attached to me once and for all.